Nakuru is increasingly becoming known as a site for sanitation innovation in Kenya. People in the streets, as well as in government offices, are talking about MakaaDotcom – that round ball of 'shit' which is being transformed to the new 'black gold' for energy. Also referred to as briquettes, this black gold is produced from human waste, and is now being used to power cookstoves in households and businesses, e.g., restaurants, institutions, and poultry farmers.
Transforming what once was a secretive operation
Previously an underground operation that was beset with shame, in the past five years, and with support from the local water and sanitation company (NAWASSCO), Nakuru’s management of faecal sludge has been transformed into a value chain that involves safe collection, transport, and re-use of human waste. Whilst complex, the success of this process is thanks to a broad-based multi-actor endeavour.
The multi-stakeholder Nakuru County Sanitation Programme (NCSP)  initiated this value chain thinking, which entailed strengthening city-wide hygiene awareness; promoting safe and sustainable toilet options; and exploring sludge collection and transport systems. Importantly, the programme contributed to strengthening public-private partnerships to spur the enactment of regulation behind the governance of human waste transport and re-use.
These activities resulted in a volume increase of sludge reaching the sewerage treatment plant; significantly reducing the practice of dumping shit in people’s own backyards. With a vision in mind, the local water and sanitation company created a subsidiary company called NAWASSCOAL: the production of briquettes evolving into its principal business.
Up-scaling from the start
Introducing sustainable operations was a driving force behind the NCSP. This facilitated the involvement of NAWASSCOAL – a social enterprise with the potential to upscale treatment, production and sales. The programme also formed a research partnership between SNV and Egerton University. Together, the research partners conducted an extensive study on possible products from human waste, and evaluated each of these against the parameters of quality, safety, performance, business viabilitym, and market potential.
The option of producing briquettes from human waste was selected as the most promising. It was found to offer a safer, affordable, and more sustainable energy solution for cooking, compared to the widely-used charcoal.
80% of households surveyed indicated the willingness to purchase the product – a market share larger than the envisaged production capacity. This held promise for considerable profits if the business would be implemented at scale.
Briquette production and sales started in June 2017. NAWASSCOAL is currently producing 10 tonnes per month, with a vision to increase capacity to 150 tonnes per month: the volume required to meet the energy needs of over 50,000 households.
The Nakuru project started with a modest investment of € 300,000. The business is expected to breakeven during the third year. Final pay back of the initial investment will be completed by the sixth year, and an annual profit of € 250,000 is expected to be yielded.
Overall, these figures demonstrate that high quantities of raw materials, a sustainable customer base, and a large scale of operations: area-wide or city-wide are all key components to achieving turnover thresholds for re-use demand.
Creating value for all
In Nakuru, the success of continued human waste briquette use rests on the foundation of creating value for all.
- For the Nakuru County Government, improvements in sanitation services reduce the disease burden, and preserve forest cover. For each ton of briquettes produced, 88 trees are preserved! A winner for conservation in a country that had lost significant forest cover, and is confronted by the debilitating effects of climate change!
- NAWASSCO fulfills its sanitation mandate, and has become a front-runner for sanitation in the country.
- NAWASSCOAL, a social enterprise, now generates significant profits to continue its operations.
- Today's residents of Nakuru benefit daily from more affordable, safer and sustainable MakaaDotcom powered stoves.
Clearly, human waste briquettes are helping to solve the combined sanitation, energy and conservation challenges in the fast growing town of Nakuru. What do you do with shit in your city? Is there a re-use solution that fits your city context?
 The Nakuru County Sanitation Programme was an EU co-funded project implemented from 2013-2018 by the Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company Ltd (NAWASSCO), Vitens Evides International, Umande Trust, SNV and the Nakuru County Government. The project also received funding from VIA Water for the re-use component.
About the Author: Reinilde has been a WASH Advisor for SNV since 2012. With over 10 years of experience in the sector, her contributions through the Nakuru County Sanitation and Voice for Change Partnership programmes have focussed on multi-stakeholder approaches, evidence-based advocacy, and innovation for scale. Reinilde is passionate about participatory and inclusive approaches for development and social change.
Photos: SNV/ Reinilde Eppinga